Firm to Aid Schools in Superintendent Search

Also: new routes to Ann Arbor high school diploma explored

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (Aug. 18, 2010): At their opening meeting of the 2010-11 school year, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board trustees discussed how to proceed in light of the recent resignation of superintendent Todd Roberts. Roberts is moving to his hometown of Durham, N.C. to become chancellor of the North Carolina School for Science and Math.


The information sign outside Skyline High School welcomes incoming freshmen. Registration for Skyline's 9th graders is Aug. 26, for 10th graders it's Aug. 25, and for 11th graders, it's Aug. 24. Tues., Aug. 24 is also the same day the school board has added an extra meeting – at the Balas administration building – to work on an RFP to hire a search firm to help with the hiring of a new superintendent.

As part of the plan, the board settled Wednesday on the idea of hiring a search firm to assist with the selection of a new superintendent. To review an RFP (request for proposals) for a search firm, an additional board meeting has been set for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 24, at the Balas administration building main conference room, 2555 S. State St. Update: The date and time for the additional board meeting has been changed to Monday, Aug. 23 at 6:30 p.m.

Early in Wednesday’s meeting, Roberts thanked the board, the staff, and district parents for their support of his work over the past four years. He named the district’s parents specifically as a “great strength” of AAPS, and said that during his tenure, he has felt both “supported and pushed – as it should be – by the community of parents to be the best that [he] could.” Referring to the district’s budget challenges last year, Roberts noted that the collaboration, partnership, and shared sacrifice has set AAPS up for a good year this year. He said he is sad to leave, and reassured everyone that he will be here this fall to get the district off to a great start.

President Deb Mexicotte said the board would be sad to see Roberts leave, but that they are happy that he and his family have this opportunity. She thanked Roberts and wished him “all the best and continued success.”

Also at this meeting: the final projects being funded by the 2004 Comprehensive School Improvement Program (known as “the Bond”) were reviewed; the board welcomed Elaine Brown, the newly-hired director of Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS); Chartwells provided an update on the district’s food service program; and two local programs offering students alternative paths to a high school diploma were presented for the board’s consideration.

Superintendent Search Process

In his first report to the board as the newly-elected Ann Arbor Administrators Association (AAAA) president, Michael Madison thanked Roberts for his leadership, and said it will be hard to replace him. Madison, who is principal of Dicken Elementary, encouraged the trustees, saying they were “up to the task” and that they had the principals’ support. “Whatever you decide to do, we back you 100 percent.” [The AAAA was the only association to report at this meeting.]

Before beginning an open-ended dialogue about how trustees felt the board should proceed, Mexicotte took a minute to review the legal obligations of the board regarding the superintendent transition.

Search Process: Legal Obligations

The board was briefed by legal counsel before the meeting, Mexicotte said, and clarified the following legalities:

  • The AAPS is required to have a superintendent — and only one — at all times;
  • An interim superintendent cannot overlap an active superintendent;
  • There cannot be “co-superintendents”;
  • It is the board’s responsibility to select and evaluate the superintendent;
  • All the work related to superintendent selection must be done by at least four board members at a time; no sub-quorum meetings are allowable;
  • The board is allowed to use assistance in identifying applicants, i.e., by hiring a search firm; and
  • Some qualifications of applicants can be reviewed in closed session, but any decisions must be made in open session.

Board secretary Glenn Nelson clarified that an interim or new superintendent could arrive at the Balas administration building a week or two before he or she was to begin work as part of a transition process, as long as at any point in time, it is clear who the one superintendent is.

Search Process: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

Mexicotte then posed a set of questions to the board, and opened up the floor for their general comments on any of the following: What do we need now? What will we need through June? What should our criteria be for a superintendent and for interim leadership? When should we begin a permanent search process? If we choose to have an interim, would that person be eligible to apply for the permanent position? How will we be continuing the work of educating in the meantime?

At first, board members began to respond by sharing pieces of Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analyses – it appeared they had completed the analyses individually before the meeting.

Nelson suggested that updating the strategic plan and continuing to study the high school climate data were opportunities. He named community engagement as a challenge, especially with the renewal of the special education millage on the horizon. He urged the board keep these things in mind as they structured the superintendent search.

Board vice president Irene Patalan reminded her colleagues that Michigan will have a new governor soon, which could prove to be either an opportunity or a challenge. She also suggested that the board should not “drop the ball” on continuing to expand collaboration efforts throughout the county. She maintained that AAPS should continue to strive to be a leader in the state.

Trustee Susan Baskett cautioned that the board should be mindful not to lose the goodwill of the community, categorizing that possibility as a threat. She pointed out that Roberts has established trust with the community that “could be threatened if we don’t do this right.” Baskett suggested that the board should be sure to maintain excitement regarding the new school year, plan thoughtfully, and take care to protect its ongoing initiatives.

Trustee Simone Lightfoot added that it is a challenge to maintain focus at the state level regarding school funding. She said she wants to be sure that any “new money” the district gets from Lansing gets saved, or used very carefully.

In the spirit of opportunity and challenge, Patalan said, she wanted to be sure the new trustees know there is a positive aspect of going through a superintendent search. “As a board member, it’s noble,” she said.

Nelson added, “As the longest-serving board member, we are in quite a different position as previous searches, and a much better one. We don’t have the turmoil and problems associated with previous resignations.” Also, he pointed out that interviewing the final pool of candidates was really interesting. “They were insightful people,” Nelson said, “it was like sitting in on a seminar on K-12 education. I learned a lot.”

Search Process: Hiring Timeline and Scope of Search

Mexicotte transitioned to the question of setting a timeline by pointing out that many of board members’ comments to that point were “the beginning of our discussion on criteria.” So she narrowed the discussion to the question of setting a timeline.

She reminded the board that AAPS has a stable superintendent until November, and noted that a national search for a district of the size and complexity of AAPS could take as long as nine months. Mexicotte also pointed out that the last superintendent search – which she, Baskett, Patalan, and Nelson were a part of, to replace former superintendent George Fornero – was “difficult and time-consuming.” With this as background, she asked board members to speak to what kind of search they might want to conduct, and when they should start looking for an interim superintendent, a permanent superintendent, or both.

Treasurer Christine Stead proposed that the board select an interim to take over when Roberts leaves in November. A realistic expectation, she said, would be for a new superintendent to start by the next fiscal year, in July 2011. Stead said it was her opinion that a national search should be done for the permanent superintendent, but not for the interim.

Baskett agreed, suggesting that the board could use September to find a consultant, and establish criteria for the interim and permanent superintendents; collect community input in October; appoint an interim in November; and call for applications for a permanent superintendent in January. She noted, “I don’t think anyone with a good conscience would leave their district at this point in the year.”

Nelson said he believed that a national search was useful and important. He pointed out that even if the board ends up choosing an internal candidate, that person would know he or she won while competing against a wider group. Nelson agreed that a national search would demand a timeline such as the one outlined by Stead. In selecting an interim, Nelson suggested that the board be “as expeditious as possible. It would be nice if it were all done somewhere in October,” he said. Nelson explained that his reasoning was based on the fact that while Roberts would be very good while he’s here, he’s moving on.

Patalan pointed out that since Roberts is here until November, an interim could learn from him for over a month if the board moved efficiently.

Lightfoot added, “I’d like us to look nationally, but welcome local.” She pointed out that with the economic downturn here, it could be a great service to hire someone from Michigan.

Search Process: The Search Firm – To RFP or Not to RFP?

Stead suggested seeking support for vetting interim and permanent candidates within the next week by seeking “an advisory firm who would partner with us for guidance.” Baskett agreed that a consultant would be helpful, and Nelson and Patalan agreed even more strongly. Nelson stated that a “search is a specialty kind of thing,” and suggested the board move quickly to get “expert help.” Patalan said simply that “the partner search is paramount.”

Mexicotte reviewed how the last time the board did a superintendent search, they engaged a search firm very early on. She pointed out that a search firm could even be used to “articulate an interim selection process.” Last time, she continued, the board interviewed search firms in a study session. Mexicotte suggested that the board try to get a search firm in place by the Sept. 29 board meeting.

Baskett said it was doable to get a firm in place by Sept. 29. Last time, she recalled, the board did a conference call during the interviews. “We could use Skype now,” she added. Nelson stated that he also likes Sept. 29 as a target date for appointing a professional search partner.

At that point, the discussion segued to a discussion of challenges that the board had experienced in selecting a search firm when hiring Roberts, and whether or not crafting a request for proposals (RFP) could mitigate those challenges this time around.

The key point of contention last time was due to the fact that AAPS was interested in engaging the community in the search process, which is not common practice. Mexicotte recalled that last time, the board repeatedly had to articulate to each firm what a search process with AAPS might include. She continued, “We had some search firms say ‘this will be a little different in Ann Arbor — engaging the stakeholders.’”

Baskett agreed, “Some of the firms last time forgot that we were the client. We need to be clear with the search firms that we are in charge. We are ultimately accountable — we need to live with our superintendent and our constituents.”

Mexicotte asked the three other board members who were part of the last superintendent search whether they felt the community engagement piece worked well last time. Baskett, Patalan, and Nelson all said that they thought it was a valuable part of the process. Mexicotte pointed out that if the board wants to have the community be involved this time, then “we don’t want [search firms] to come with a plan that has no community involvement, for example.”

Stead argued that issuing a formal RFP would lead to a better match, and volunteered to “take a crack” at writing up the scope of work. Roberts asked whether an RFP directed at finding a search firm had been issued during the last superintendent search, and suggested that if there was one, it could be pulled out and revised. Amy Osinski, executive secretary to the board, answered that last time the board did not issue a detailed RFP, but instead simply invited search firms to make a pitch during their interview.

Patalan questioned whether the board should really ask Stead to do the work of writing an RFP. She suggested simply inviting four firms to present at the next meeting instead.

Nelson disagreed. “I’m thinking differently,” he said, “Last time we did that, and it was clear that at least one firm was not a good match.” Stating that it was a waste of both the firm’s and the board’s time to go through a fruitless interview, he suggested that “having an RFP sets that stage that we’re in charge.”

Stead added that an RFP could include the board’s suggested timeline, as well as a delineated list of roles and responsibilities to make it clear that the firm will be in an advisory role.

Mexicotte said she tends to think, if the board is able to articulate what it means by “community engagement” in an RFP, then the selection of a search firm can become “more about the chemistry.” With apparent tongue in cheek, Mexicotte said she would like to schedule an extra regular meeting to “do that noble work” referred to earlier by Patalan, and approve the RFP. She asked Stead whether the draft RFP could be done within a week.

Stead suggested that she could have a draft RFP ready by Monday or Tuesday of next week. Of the two days, Lightfoot said Tuesday was better for her, and Patalan added that afternoon was the best time of day for her on Tuesday.

Mexicotte asked the trustees to contact her with their best hour-long slot on Tuesday afternoon, and reminded them that discussion at this extra meeting would be focused on what is important in selecting a search firm. Roberts suggested that if the RFP were completed on Tuesday, it could go out by Friday, and asked Mexicotte when the board would want the search firms’ proposals back. Mexicotte suggested that perhaps proposals should be back by Sept. 10, with the board set to interview prospective firms the week of Sept. 20.

[The extra, regular board meeting was set for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 24, at the Balas administration building main conference room, 2555 S. State St.]

Comprehensive School Improvement Program Nearing Completion

Two agenda items at the meeting were related to the wrap-up of spending the $240 million Comprehensive School Improvement Program (CSIP) funding (known as “the Bond”), approved by voters in 2004: facilities projects, and technology upgrades.

CSIP: Facilities Projects

As part of the bond, work has been completed or is being completed this summer at each of the district’s schools. Randy Trent, executive director of physical properties, presented an update to the board on the construction and renovation projects being completed this summer as the last of the CSIP initiatives.

Trent began by reviewing the accessibility/ADA exterior work being done at Allen, Haisley, Scarlett, and Stone schools, as well as the transportation building – each project includes the installation of a properly-sloped sidewalk with necessary handrails. In addition, he said, ADA signage has been completed outside of all classrooms, which includes Braille notation at proper heights.

Trent said the rest of the outside work being completed this summer is asphalt, parking lot, or driveway replacement [at Angell, Carpenter, Mitchell, Thurston, Clague, Scarlett, Slauson, and Tappan] or partial roof replacement [at Clague, Forsythe, Mitchell, Northside, Preschool, Slauson, and Huron]. The remainder of the inside bond work is at Pioneer High School, he explained, which includes renovations of the cafeteria, the book depository, the SISS suite, and administrative offices. Pioneer will also undergo a partial roof replacement, and creation of a student courtyard in the area which previously held portable classrooms. According to Trent, all work will be completed by the end of August, except for the outside work at Pioneer, which will be completed by October 2010.

CSIP: Facilities Projects – Thurston Driveway

Trent added that the one bond project that has fallen behind schedule is the Thurston driveway replacement. He explained that resubmittal drawings required to be sent to the state of Michigan were lost in the mail between the state and the traffic engineering firm. Once the error was uncovered, Trent said, the paperwork was sent again and the project has been cleared to continue as planned.

Trent also mentioned that a citizen complaint was filed against the project, but was dismissed by the state after review. Nelson asked whether the complaint had been filed by Kathy Griswold, and Trent confirmed that it had been. Stead asked whether the complaint caused the delay that the project is now facing, and asked whether there would be an additional cost associated with the delay. Trent answered that, though the complaint may have contributed, the main cause of the delay was the paperwork resubmittal. He said AAPS would bear some additional costs in terms of overtime pay, but that the driveway would definitely be completed before school starts, or even up to a week early, depending on the weather.

Griswold is a former AAPS school board member and member of the School Transportation Safety Committee, a co-committee of AAPS, the city of Ann Arbor, and Washtenaw County. She was present at Wednesday’s meeting, but did not address the board. However, in response to “being accused of delaying the project at the [board] meeting,” Griswold contacted Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office on Friday, and asked the governor to intervene. A press release issued by Griswold states that she requested that Granholm to direct the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth (DELEG) to issue a stop work order on the project, and create a new site plan that still allows a new driveway to be completed before Sept. 7 – the start of school.

Griswold’s press release also states that the Thurston driveway design is the same as the design proposed to replace the King driveway four years ago, which she says was rejected by the King community. Trent offered this statement to The Chronicle in response to Griswold’s claims: “The plan at King school, just as at Thurston, was designed by traffic engineers as part of the district process. The King community rejected their plan for a wide range of reasons, and the driveway King currently has is not unsafe. Thurston approved their plan, so the district has proceeded with the new traffic plan there.”

CSIP: Facilities Projects – Questions and Comments

Lightfoot asked for clarification about what “working on punchlist” means. The phrase had appeared in the PowerPoint presentation Trent made at the meeting. Trent explained that the punchlist is the list of items the district approves after the contractors have finished their work. A common example, he said, is to be sure that grass grows in thick enough in the areas that the contractor seeded on the sides of an asphalt project.

Baskett asked whose responsibility it was to check off the items on each punchlist. Trent acknowledged that ultimately it was his responsibility, but that building principals also played a role in monitoring the completion of their schools’ projects.

Nelson asked why the preschool needed a partial roof replacement when it was just built recently as part of the bond. Trent explained that the Ann Arbor Preschool and Family Center was created by taking two older buildings owned by the district (Balas II and Balas III), and adding a new, central core to make the preschool. The two older buildings, he said, are what required the roof upgrades, as they were warehouses before they were administration buildings. Trent also pointed out that by renovating Balas II and Balas III to create the preschool, the district converted 40,000 square feet of administrative space into instructional space.

Patalan asked if the watershed project at Pioneer would be complete in time for the University of Michigan football season. The district contracts out the Pioneer lawn for football parking. Mexicotte tacked on the question, “And can you remind us how that project was funded?”

Trent answered that the Allen Creek watershed project is complete. “Grass is growing,” he said, “fences, trees, and signage are in place.” The project was paid for, Trent explained, with a combination of federal, state, county, and city funding. “The AAPS did not pay any part of the project,” he stated, “We just allowed them to do the work.”

Many members of the board expressed an interest in hosting some sort of celebration in recognition of the completion of the bond projects. Nelson noted that the bond was a major investment by the community that is now paying off, and Patalan recalled, “It was hard work to get this [bond] passed.”

As part of his AAAA report, Madison also thanked Trent and his team for “working so hard in such a small amount of time” to get the schools ready to start the new year.

Trent said that he’d like to do a presentation to the board when all the bond work is complete, saying he “may even wear a tuxedo.” Trent thanked everyone in the buildings, from the custodians on up, and also thanked Roberts for turning the project around and getting it back on track four years ago.

CSIP: Technology Upgrades

Robert Allen, deputy superintendent of operations, Monique Uzelac, director of instructional technology, and John Van Riper from the district’s technology department recommended three technology upgrades to the board:

  • A 12-pair fiber expansion to Skyline High, which was part of the original plan for the district’s newest high school, and which will bring it up to par with the other high schools ($69,000);
  • A 10 Gig switch upgrade, which Van Riper described as “a bigger pipe” needed to allow full delivery of instruction for all course offerings ($230,000); and,
  • The replacement of approximately 700 laptops used at Pioneer and Huron, because those currently in use are five or six years old and are not able to run some of the newest software purchased by the district ($759,000).

Baskett asked how soon after this upgrade would AAPS need “an even bigger pipe.” Van Riper said the 10 Gig upgrade being requested would last for at least five years, if not longer. Lightfoot confirmed that all funding for these upgrades would be coming from the bond fund.

Uzelac explained that the laptops, which are the largest part of this proposed expense, have seen heavy use by high school students. “Technology in this district does not go unused,” she said. Allen added, “We have gotten our money’s worth out of this equipment.”

The board’s planning committee had reviewed this proposal at its August meeting. Patalan, who chairs the committee, agreed with the sentiment shared by Allen above: “Technology needs to be refreshed — it’s the nature of the beast.”

Outcome: The recommendations totaled $1,058,000 in spending, all coming out of the remaining bond funds. They came to the board as a first briefing item, and will be considered for approval at the board’s next regular meeting.

New SISS Administrator Hired

As part of his superintendent’s report at the meeting, Roberts introduced Elaine Brown as the new administrator of Student Intervention and Support Services (SISS). She comes from the Southfield Public Schools, and has been at AAPS for a week, Roberts said, adding, “We are very fortunate to have her.” Brown came to the podium for a moment and thanked everyone for being so welcoming. Mexicotte officially welcomed her to the district.

Food Service Update

Chartwells food service director for AAPS, David Lahey, along with his regional manager, presented an update on the food service they provide to the district.

Beginning with the first meal of the day, they described how breakfast at each school is different, depending on the interest of the building staff. Some schools serve hot breakfast, others offer only “grab and go bags,” Lahey said.

Baskett asked whether breakfast was available at every school, and Lahey answered that it will be this year. Last school year, he said, breakfast was served at every school except for Community High.

Chartwells’ regional manager explained that 18.6% of AAPS students are allowed a free or reduced-price lunch (FRL), but that they don’t all take advantage of it. The percentage of FRL-eligible students who choose to eat a Chartwells lunch at school is increasing, she said, likely due to higher economic need among these students. Baskett and Lightfoot asked for clarification about the percentage of AAPS students actually using the FRL program, and Chartwells staff said about 13-14% of all students are taking advantage of the option. So, there are still 4-5% of AAPS students who qualify for FRL, but who are not using it.

Overall, the number of AAPS students who participate in the meal program has increased each year, since the inception of the Chartwells program in AAPS, which Chartwells staff attributes to “kids now being more in tune with healthier choices.” In 2006-07, 33% of students participated. In 2007-08, that percentage rose to 36%, and in 2008-09 to 39%. During last year (2009-10), 40.5% of AAPS students participated in the Chartwells lunch program, according to Chartwells.

Chartwells’ staff then presented the results of a survey they did with students at Skyline, Pioneer, and Forsythe. The survey covered topics such as food quality, taste, and customer service. Nelson noted that students at Skyline rated Chartwells higher on the survey than students at the other two schools, and Chartwells’ staff responded that the company employs a different marketing campaign at Skyline called “environments,” which is more geared to cooking from scratch and having variety. The “environments program,” Chartwells staff said, would be rolled out throughout the rest of the district over the next school year.

Nelson said he appreciated Chartwells “making use of Skyline” to try out the new marketing approach. Stead asked how much variability there is in the offerings among schools, and Lahey answered that not much was different about the actual food. “It’s more about how the food is presented,” he said, such as using less wrapping.

Next, Chartwells’ staff presented the results of a survey they had given to school principals about their service. The principals were overwhelmingly supportive of Chartwells on all accounts, they said.

The report ended with a summary of elements of the Chartwells program, including using “Farm Fresh Food” three times a week; serving fresh fruit and vegetable bars; offering cooking demonstrations, especially at the preschool; and cooking on location without deep frying at the elementary schools.

In addition, Mitchell, Stone, and Clemente schools offer universal breakfast, where every student is allowed to eat breakfast for no charge. Mitchell and Stone also offer a dinner program Monday through Thursday that serves a combined 100 students who stay after school for enrichment activities.

Lastly, Chartwells’ staff highlighted the program’s community outreach. For example, they aid in the distribution of backpacks of food donated by the nonprofit Food Gatherers to students at Mitchell who take the backpacks home on the weekends. Chartwells also provided chicken dinners to each preschool family last year.

Stead commended Chartwells’ community involvement, saying that it was not expected, but much appreciated, for a vendor to be so engaged. Roberts also praised Chartwells, and Lahey in particular, saying “It’s not easy to provide food that kids will eat within our strict wellness policy.” Baskett thanked Chartwells for allowing nonprofits and local organizations to use school kitchens.

Allen then came to the podium. He pointed out that Chartwells has been very collaborative when making adjustments to their programs in response to feedback from the district.

Baskett asked about the status of the food vendor’s contract with AAPS, and Allen explained that it is a 5-year contract that has been renewed every year.

Lightfoot asked Allen whether having contracted with Chartwells for the past four years was a financially beneficial move for the district to have made. Allen answered that it has been beneficial. The money generated by the food service program, he said, has returned over $1 million to the district’s general fund over the past three years. Prior to hiring Chartwells, Allen added, the district’s food service program had an approximately $1.2 million deficit.

Lightfoot also brought some levity to the meeting by asking, “At what point do the cheese sandwiches kick in?” She explained that her daughter came home one day and said that she was offered only cheese sandwiches all day, since her parents had not paid their food service bill. Lahey said that the cheese sandwiches kick in if parents owe more than $12.50 on their bill, and Allen added that the district offers an automated system called Meal Pay Plus, allowing parents to see what their kids have chosen at each meal. Meal Pay Plus, Allen said, can also be set to alert you when the fund balance gets down to a certain level.

Lightfoot thanked Lahey and Allen for their responses. Mexicotte thanked Lightfoot for her question, saying that it offers proof there is no favoritism at play in the lunch payment system.

Two New Paths to an AAPS High School Diploma

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board heard presentations on two local programs offering optional paths to receiving a high school diploma — the Early College Alliance (ECA) and the Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Washtenaw program.

Diploma Path: Early College Alliance

David Duggar Dugger, director of the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University (ECA at EMU), returned to address the board on Wednesday after being cut off midway through his last presentation due to a tornado warning that interrupted the June 23 board meeting.

Dugger explained that the genesis for ECA came from looking at ways within Washtenaw County to collaborate to meet the needs of a subset of students. Describing ECA as “the right school for about 150 kids per year,” Dugger explained that ECA’s design is based on the design of Washtenaw Technical Middle College. The key element of the design is that students are given additional time, up to an extra year of high school, without affecting the district’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a component of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. He also noted that 30% of ECA’s student body is reserved for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Baskett asked how old the program is, and Dugger answered that it began in 2007, but that the model has been around for 15 years. Current ECA membership includes the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), EMU, and the public school districts of Chelsea, Milan, Lincoln, Whitmore Lake, and Ypsilanti. Willow Run is joining in 2011, Dugger said, and AAPS has the option of joining in 2011 too, if the district commits to participating in the program by the end of September 2010.

Dugger explained that many students in ECA are not in public education at all – many come instead from homeschooling or private schools. A significant aspect of the ECA, Dugger added, is to “teach kids how to negotiate their way through bureaucracy.” The upside for EMU, he said, is that many students continue at EMU after finishing the ECA.

ECA is funded by a transfer of the state foundation allowance. If a student from a local district chooses ECA, the district retains 12% of that student’s state, per-pupil allowance, and 88% follows the student to ECA. Students apply to ECA through their home districts, and their home districts grant their diplomas, too. When they graduate (within five years instead of four), they not only have a high school diploma, but up to 60 college credits at no cost to them.

Stead asked who teaches ECA classes, and Dugger explained that students attend classes by dedicated ECA teachers drawn from participating districts, or EMU faculty. All classes are conducted on EMU’s campus. In response to a question from Baskett, Dugger said that ECA pays for books as well as any other required materials.

Baskett asked how parental input is taken into account in ECA, given that there is not a PTO like in high school, nor are parents paying tuition, as they might for a traditional college. Dugger said there is a parent group, but also each content instructor acts as a mentor for students and a point of contact for families.

Baskett indicated she thought that the quality of academic advising at EMU is poor, and asked if ECA connects students to EMU advisors at the conclusion of the program if students are continuing at EMU. Dugger said they do, and agreed in general about the quality of the advising. He also pointed out that the ECA essentially acts as an ongoing focus group for EMU because if there is a problem among ECA students, it is likely a systemic problem affecting the wider student body.

Regarding the portion of the program reserved for students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, Baskett asked how that affects the lottery admission system. Nelson jumped in to say that there are essentially two separate lotteries. If more than 30% of the applicants are students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, there is a lottery among those students first, and the remainder are put into the general application pool. Then, there is a second lottery for the remaining program slots. If fewer than 30% of the applicants qualify for free or reduced lunch, they all get in, and the remaining slots are filled by lottery of all other applicants. Dugger thanked Nelson for his “two lotteries” explanation.

Nelson then asked about the role of the district’s high school counselors in advising students that ECA might be right for them. Dugger said ECA meets with district counselors regularly, but that students do not have to go through their counselor. Nelson was unsatisfied with that answer, calling it “not substantive.” Dugger acknowledged that counselors have perceived ECA as threatening, and that ECA tries to stress that it’s one of multiple options. He also pointed out that having the ECA, along with other high school options, can be used as a marketing point for Washtenaw County as a whole.

Outcome: This was the first briefing on the ECA. At the second briefing, should the board decide to join the consortium, AAPS would be awarded 25 slots for the 2011-12 school year.

Diploma Path: Widening Advancement for Youth

Rick Leyshock, WISD assistant superintendent of student services, and Monique Uzelac, AAPS director of instructional technology, presented another program to the board which would allow AAPS students an alternate path to a diploma — the Widening Advancement for Youth (WAY) Washtenaw program.

Leyshock described the program as part of the county continuum of high school options, and said that WAY targets students who have dropped out of school or are in jeopardy of not graduating on time. The program is entirely project-based, he said, through which students engage in self-directed learning within a virtual learning community. Leyshock explained that WAY will be a pilot program in 2010-11, and hopes to get 180 16- or 17 year-olds from throughout the county back in school. “If this works,” he said, “the program will be in high demand.” Roberts also mentioned that the WAY consortium would lease space at Stone School.

Lightfoot asked why this program would be attractive to a student. Uzelac responded by describing the roles of the program staff. In WAY, she said, students are called “researchers.” A part-time teacher mentors six students, and is in daily contact with them. Then there is a “project manager” who is responsible for 60 students’ entire educational experience. That person does home visits and intervenes as necessary to keep each student’s learning on track. A “technician” helps students to showcase their work and demonstrate their learning, and “experts” are highly qualified teachers who assess students’ work and determine their mastery of content standards. Students are then granted credits based on the standards they have met.

Lightfoot asked how WAY differs from the cyberschools encouraged by the federal Race to the Top program. The program is unique, Uzelac explained, in that student learning is organized around projects, not courses. The cyberschools, she said, are more traditional in that they are course-based. Lightfoot also asked how students who are already disengaged fare in terms of computer literacy. Uzelac answered that there is a face-time component to the program twice a week, in addition to a comprehensive intake process that includes an introduction to learning about the virtual world.

Trustees asked about other details of the program — do students take the MEAP? Will they get a diploma? And, is WAY searching for private grant money? The answers to all three questions was yes. Leyshock explained that the system of granting credit still needs to be worked out, among other program details. He explained that WAY is affiliated with Inclusion US, a nonprofit that is aligned with the Not School program in the United Kingdom. Inclusion US provides technical and management support of the program, and also serves similar programs in Clio, Livingston County, Wayne County, and the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District.

Any students who are enrolled in WAY bring 100% of their district’s foundation allowance with them to cover program costs. Of that foundation allowance, $3,100 per student goes to pay Inclusion US, and the rest pays for the program staffing. For now, Leyshock said, WISD is fronting the cost of the pilot, and part of what will be studied is whether the program is financially feasible. Roberts added that AAPS will be reimbursed for the staff costs associated with Uzelac’s time spent on WAY, as well as Stone principal Sheila Brown’s work on the program. That is in addition, Roberts reiterated, to the rental money for Stone’s space.

Patalan asked exactly who a student would interact with face-to-face within a week. Uzelac answered that each student is responsible for producing two learning artifacts each week, but may not see his or her mentor face-to-face. Mexicotte pointed out that these students are not currently engaged with any adult in any school.

Baskett asked what happens if a student does not have internet access, and Leyshock said the program would pay for it. Each student is also issued an iMac as part of participating in the program.

Both Mexicotte and Baskett asked which measures would be evaluated, and whether standard measures across like projects were already in place. Leyshock said that those elements of the program were being built right now, but that the first priority was “finding the kids who will get engaged and stay engaged.” The hope is to get 180 students enrolled before the state’s Sept. 29 count day.

Nelson asked if students currently enrolled in the district’s alternative high schools would see the WAY program as desirable. He asked, “What impact will this have on our current enrollment at Stone, Clemente, and Community?” Baskett expressed a similar concern, and also pointed that there are students at traditional high schools who might feel “pushed out.”

Roberts responded that the WAY program would not likely have any impact on Clemente or Community. Some Stone students might prefer the WAY program, he said, but the program is really targeting students who were not in school at all last year.

Roberts thanked the WISD, saying that there was a lot of effort being put in by people there to create collaborative, countywide options for kids.

WAY Washtenaw is already underway as a pilot project. The board will vote on whether or not to officially join the consortium at the second briefing of this item at the first September board meeting.

Superintendent’s Report

Roberts used part of his superintendent’s report to welcome everyone to a new school year. Administrative staff returned this week, he said, and teachers will be back Aug. 30 for three days of professional development. Per state law, students will start classes after Labor Day; this year’s first day for students is Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Roberts also briefly mentioned new federal stimulus funding coming to Michigan just announced by Gov. Granholm. According to Roberts, the funding could be passed on to local school districts within 45 days and could return funding to levels seen in 2008-09. This funding is unrelated to the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) program. Michigan was not awarded additional funding through either the first or second rounds of the RTTT grant competition.

Transportation Consolidation Update

Near the end of the meeting, Mexicotte asked Roberts how the WISD transportation consolidation was evolving. Roberts answered that routes have been set for this coming school year and are available on the district’s website [.pdf of 2010-11 bus routes]. There will be very little change for AAPS students, he said, and some students may even see the same driver they had last year. Of the AAPS drivers who did not retire, Roberts noted, all but 10 of them were hired by WISD. Drivers will be bidding on routes next week, and drivers for each route will be announced by the end of August.

Roberts also noted that WISD hired all of the AAPS supervisors, and that the consolidated transportation program is housed at the AAPS garage, under the management of a new director, Tom Moore. Roberts commended the significant work put in this summer by the WISD’s Brian Marcel and Winnie Garrett in order to get the consolidation off the ground.

Agenda Planning

Mexicotte asked board members for input into planning the next few months of meetings, and Nelson reminded the board of the high school updates leftover from the tornado-interrupted meeting in June.

Balancing Goal-setting, Organizing, and the Superintendent Search

Mexicotte asked for feedback from the board on how to organize the board’s immediate meeting schedule, given the new demands of the superintendent search, and the reality of the upcoming elections being uncontested. As currently scheduled, the board has a study session planned to discuss its annual goals before the regular meeting on Sept. 15, and an organizational meeting set for Jan. 12. The purpose of the annual organizational meeting is for the board to elect its officers, and to decide who will sit on each of its standing committees as well as who will participate on each of the various administrative committees on which the board holds one or more seats.

Mexicotte suggested that the board consider moving its organizational meeting up to November, just after the election, or even to September “to get it out of the way” before the board delves head-on into the superintendent search. She noted that “it is unlikely that any one of us is likely to lose our position,” but acknowledged that a write-in candidate could still be elected in the currently uncontested race for five board seats this November. Saying that “a new goal has superceded goal-setting,” Mexicotte also suggested that the Sept. 15 meeting to discuss board goals might be better spent reviewing proposals from search firms.

Baskett asked whether it would make sense to set board goals as well as conduct the organizational meeting on Sept. 15. She argued that it would be a way to assure the community that “we’ve got it together.”

The other board members agreed that it would be a good idea to move the organizational meeting from January to the fall. Lightfoot stated, “Things we can foresee and knock out, I’d like to see us do that sooner rather than later.” Stead agreed: “This makes good sense.”

Nelson and Patalan suggested that, though there may be time for other business on Sept. 15, the priority should be kept on working to choose a search firm.

After receiving their feedback, Mexicotte told the trustees that she would meet with the executive committee to decide how to proceed.

High School Updates

Nelson added that it is important to be sure that the updates from Pioneer and Huron high schools are rescheduled as soon as possible. All three comprehensive high schools were supposed to report at the final board meeting of last school year, but that meeting was interrupted by a tornado warning and the agenda was pared down. Nelson pointed out that the high school updates contain substantive information, and it is also important not to send a message to the community that the regular work of the board has been suspended in light of the superintendent’s resignation.

Public Commentary

Thomas Partridge, a frequent speaker at local public meetings, was the only person to give public commentary at the meeting. He encouraged AAPS to continue to combine resources with other districts in the county and throughout southeast Michigan. Partridge also called on trustees to adopt programs that will stimulate students beyond the classroom, such as working on community farms, rocketry, or astrophysics. He noted that his work as 4-H president as a teenager, and growing up on his family’s farm, presented significant learning opportunities to him that he feels are missing in contemporary education. “Present this material not just to the best and the brightest,” he said. “I’m calling for innovations across the board.”

Consent Agenda Approved

A consent agenda containing three sets of draft minutes and a list of gifts offers made to AAPS was moved by Stead and seconded by Patalan. It was passed by acclamation by all trustees present, as Mexicotte noted, “nothing on the consent agenda requires a roll call vote.”

Awards and Accolades

Nelson noted the success of the building industry program, a self-funding program in which AAPS high school students learn building trades by assisting in the building of a house over the course of a school year. Nelson had attended the open house for this year’s new home, and reported that the house has now been sold. He praised the program for teaching students leadership and teamwork in addition to skilled trades, and expressed feeling “inspired by these students and the people who work with them.”

Present: President Deb Mexicotte, vice president Irene Patalan, secretary Glenn Nelson, treasurer Christine Stead, and trustees Susan Baskett and Simone Lightfoot. Also present as a non-voting member was Todd Roberts, superintendent of AAPS.

Absent: Trustee Andy Thomas.

Next meeting: Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010, 3 p.m., Balas Main Conference Room, 2555 S. State St. [confirm date]

One Comment

  1. By Kathy Griswold
    August 24, 2010 at 9:16 am | permalink

    Scott Campbell, a King School parent and associate professor of urban planning at the UM, did an analysis of the proposed driveway at King in 2008. The analysis is very critical of the same double-loop driveway design that is planned for Thurston School. He and a group of about 40 King parents were successful in preventing this unsafe driveway design from being constructed at King School.

    Professor Campbell’s three most salient criticisms relating to student safety (as he stated in his report) are:
    - The major safety issue is car-kid interactions. However, the apparent primary theme of the proposed design is separating busses and cars. There is no fundamental, compelling reason why separating cars and busses should be a top priority, since it has not been identified as the main source of risk.
    - The proposed design is often used at busy airports: bus/shuttle traffic along the right curb closest to the terminal entrance, and car drop-off along a separate lane of traffic on the left (dropping off at the central median strip). What works for adult airline passengers may not work well for K-5 students.
    - Overall, the proposal unfortunately represents an older (and outdated) transportation engineering model of trying to solve problems by simply adding more capacity (pavement). It is a rather coarse, expensive, over-engineered solution.

    The design is in violation of state code as well as school transportation safety guidelines and I continue to advocate, as I have since seeing the Thurston design in the spring of this year, for a revised design that eliminates the need for school children to cross a lane of vehicular traffic.